I went to college in St. Columb’s in Derry. There was a very strong academic tradition there and the emphasis was on achieving. This was your ticket out of there, your ticket to better things.
I suppose they must have done something right, because amongst other products of the place around about then were Brian Friel (the playwright), Seamus Heaney (Nobel Laureate for poetry), Seamus Deane (writer and Professor of English at Notre Dame) and John Hume (Nobel Laureate for Peace).
There were a couple of us from St. Columbs who got State Exhibitions. I think they were awarded to maybe the top twenty places in the North of Ireland in final exams and as you might imagine they were hotly contested. It was a particular point of pride for St. Columb’s, a Catholic college full of working class kids on scholarships, that they could compete with the best of the ‘posh’ more privileged establishments. So there was a kind of a tradition, that if you won a State Exhibition, you came and asked for a free day for the rest of the school. The word had percolated through,it seemed that every single pupil had gathered outside the front door. And I went up and asked the Head for the free day.
And although there was this long established tradition, he kind of hummed and hawed about it, and said “Well I don’t know,” then “Okay, okay Coulter......... I suppose you’d better let them know!”
So I came out to the top of the stairs, with all the school assembled below, and I just went “YES!” And to this day, I can remember all the eyes looking up and the faces. And there was that feeling of being the local hero, it was such an intoxicating feeling. It has never left me.
Within weeks of beginning my first term studying music at Queens University, Belfast, I started my own band and from that moment onward my fate was sealed.
I spent my days being intense about Palestrina, and playing polyphony of the late 1600’s, and my nights being even more intense about Fats Domino, and playing Rock and Roll of the early 1960’s.
By my final year at University, I’d already written a couple of hits in Ireland and there was only one place on the planet for me in 1964 - LONDON!